Mitchell Board of Education approves $45 million high school project base bid

Plans do not include athletic facility upgrades, bond issue to complete project to be discussed

Members of the Mitchell Board of Education hear a presentation during its special meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 31. The board voted at the meeting to approve the base bid for the new high school, which came in at $45,618,901.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — The Mitchell Board of Education on Tuesday night approved a base bid for the proposed Mitchell High School project and suggested it could pursue a bond issue in an effort to complete the total vision for construction as soon as possible.

The decision came on a 4-1 vote of the board, with board member Terry Aslesen casting the no vote. Voting in favor were Brittni Flood, Deb Olson, Shawn Ruml and Matt Christiansen. The special meeting was held at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.

The board approval means a project years in the meaning is finally taking its first concrete steps.

“I’m excited. This has been three years in the making, maybe longer. To see that we’re at that point where we might be able to offer the students in Mitchell a really good school is exciting,” Olson, who serves as president of the board, told the Mitchell Republic following the meeting.

The vote essentially sets in motion the construction of a new high school building, but without several of the athletic facility upgrades that were also proposed in alternatives to the base bid. Those improvements, which include a main gymnasium, locker rooms, weight rooms, wrestling, training rooms, an auxiliary gym and gymnastics and cheer have been pushed as an important part of the project, primarily by Aslesen.


Aselsen said following the meeting the athletic facility upgrades are badly needed and should be a part of any new high school plans going forward.

“As we look down the road, what our school needed the most was a new athletic facility. That still remains its number one need. We have great academics, it’s always nice to have a new facility to do it in and maybe a more spacious facility, but the bottom line is we need better athletic facilities for our kids,” Aslesen said. “The way it is right now, we are doing nothing with the athletics.”

The base bid comes in at $45,618,901. That is substantially less than the estimated $62,610,508 it would cost to include all the above athletic alternates as well as the cost of closing Winsor Street, renovating one practice field and constructing a second and plaza parking.

Puetz Design and Build is serving as construction manager for the project.

The district has put away funds to build a new high school for years, building a fund specifically to go toward the project. That came from the sale of approximately $24 million in bonds, interest earned on those bonds to the tune of $1,000,000, ESSR funds in the amount of $4,100,000, $8 million in capital outlay reserve, $550,000 in food service contribution and an anticipated sale of additional capital outlay certificates in the amount of $7,484,380.

But the board is not likely done with discussions on the subject. Debate among board members Tuesday night revolved around the need for new athletic facilities versus the need for new academic facilities, the potential for remodeling the high school instead of new construction and the potential use of a public bond issue vote that would help the project complete the entire project in one shot.

The bond issue to help complete the above alternates, which was suggested in the amount of $20 million, was part of the administration recommendation in the meeting agenda, but the board took no action on that issue. Olson said the board was most likely to visit that issue at the next meeting of the board, which is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Aslesen’s suggested another option would be to try for a bond issue approval first before approving the base bid. That way the board would know the money is there to do the entire project. Approval of the base bid without knowing what would be the outcome of a public bond vote could leave the district hanging with an unclear timeline on when the athletic facilities would finally be upgraded.


“If a bond issue doesn’t pass, we’re going to be a long, long, long time down the road until our kids are ever brought up to par with the opportunities that other towns have,” Aslesen said. “We have the best fine arts center in the state, we have the worst indoor athletic facilities of any of the big schools.”

Aslesen earlier in the meeting proposed a motion to reject all submitted bids as he didn’t feel the base bid covered the needs of the district, namely the athletic facilities. That motion died for lack of a second. A later motion to delay the vote on the base bid until the board’s next meeting as well as conduct a survey of Mitchell High School staff on the matter also died for lack of a second.

Christiansen, who made the motion to approve the base bid, said that he was ready to move forward with getting the project started.

Mark Puetz, with Puetz Design and Build, speaks at the Mitchell Board of Education meeting Jan. 31.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

“I think that this has been something in the making over the course of three boards, maybe more. It’s evolved over time, and we’ve been presented with challenges and opportunities at the same time,” Christiansen said. “I think moving forward now is timely and appropriate.”

Flood said she did not want to move forward too quickly, but she felt addressing the academic needs of the district were more important than the athletic upgrades at this time.

“We hear the community’s need for the athletic facilities, but doing the bond would be the way we could. We’re not just completely taking that out, but we’re putting it into the community’s hands and seeing where we can go from there. That’s why I’m in support of this motion,” Flood said.

Ruml said if the board chose to approve the base bid, they should pursue a bond issue as quickly as possible.

“If we go down the path of the base bid, make sure the bond issue is done as soon as possible so we can take it into account as one big giant project,” Ruml said. “We would all want to do the whole thing all at once, but it doesn’t make sense to do gym and not classrooms, so being able to say today yes, we want the classrooms today with the hope that the public would support the whole thing and we can do it all at once and it’s all done? That’s the path I would like to take.”


The bids for the project are good for 30 days after they are submitted. In this case, the bids will be good through Feb. 23.

Steve Culhane, business manager for the district, said it was unlikely that setting up a bond vote could happen that quickly. Should the board wish to move forward with a bond vote, he said it would likely be a choice between a special election or piggybacking off the combined city and school election that has already been scheduled for June.

The board will hold its next regular meeting Feb. 13, and Olson expected the board to take up the bond issue question again.

“I do (think it will be discussed further). One of the things that we talked about is trying to get out to talk to service clubs to let people know. Obviously this has been a bit of a school work committee that has developed this, but I don’t think the community knows enough about what we are doing. So I think it will be important to get out and talk to them, let them know what we’re looking at and what we want to do,” Olson said. “And we would have to kind of weigh it. Is it wise to save the cost of a special election and have it in June, or would it be wise to try to do it in two months so when they start construction on the new high school they would know whether this will be successful or not.”

Those decisions will all be made with the best interest of district patrons in mind, she said.

“It will be really good for the students and faculty,” Olson said.

Joe Graves, who was working at the meeting in his last official day as superintendent for the district, agreed that the district had just taken its first real step toward a great, new facility for Mitchell High School.

“Now the project goes forward, which is great, I’m just delighted with that. It’s going to be a great thing for our kids,” Graves said after the meeting. “There is still a lot of work to be done, the construction, possibly a bond issue and those kinds of things, so we’ll see how that all pans out. But this is a great step forward to getting a nice high school.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
What To Read Next
Get Local